logo en full

Not Every Manager is a Leader

Why some managers are not regarded as leaders by their subordinates? Probably their behaviors are not seen as Acts of Leadership. So who is a leader? A leader makes sense of the work, cultivates values which are important to the team, establishes a structure, and sets goals, so that the team knows how to approach the tasks, explains Dr. Włodzimierz Świątek, expert and lecturer in Management and Leadership at SWPS University.

Managerial Attitudes

While observing managers and their behaviors one can notice many examples of leaders who are considered to be remarkable, but who, as it turns out, abuse their power. According to his colleagues, Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, was a “tyrant” and was known to destroy and humiliate people. It means that many of his behaviors could not be classified as Acts of Leadership. Some managers who constantly emphasize their high ranking positions, discourage their teams and as the result, team members refrain from taking any imitative. Others may have problems with delegating work and do all the work themselves. As the result, they end up overworked and simply displeased with themselves, because they are not able to engage their people in any projects. These managers may direct the growing anger and aggression towards the team members, which in turn may lead to a serious crisis impeding effective work.

Organizations undergoing transformations present great opportunities for observation and analysis of leadership behaviors. I witnessed a transformation of a leader of a big, strategically important team, who was able not only to lead the team during a radical and difficult organizational change, but also was engaged in gaining many supporters of the change. As a leader, she stood out from the other managers, because she was able to capture new opportunities for the organization and was able to chart new course of action at a volatile time. She motivated people and she helped to reduce their resistance towards the change. As the result, she cemented her authority and she was accepted by her subordinates as a leader, because her behaviors were recognized as authentic Acts of Leadership.

Professor Michael D. Watkins, expert in leadership from the International Institute for Management Development (IMD) claims that in business practice a manger balances between two poles: management and leadership. Every manager must decide for themselves where they want to be on that scale.


Acts of Leadership – Their Role and Significance

Professor Richard Little, who has researched psychological dimensions of decision-making, notes that behavior can be seen as an Act of Leadership when it includes three key elements:

  • meaning (giving meaning to actions and setting strategic goals, so that people know what to do);
  • values (uniting people around a value, creating values important for the team, so that people understand why they should be doing something);
  • structure (defining roles, tasks, resources, methods, the place and the pace of work, so that people know how to work).

These three elements help to assess weather a behavior can be classified as an Act of Leadership.

Acts of Leadership are conducive to smooth team work and goal achievement. Moreover, they focus on effectiveness not only of the leader, but also of the team.

At the same time, the leader must be aware that his or her attitude and work are constantly being assessed by the subordinates and that in reality, the subordinates decide whether the manager behaves like a leader.

Employees Leave Managers not Companies

Not all leaders are happy with the approach to leadership, which gives the power to assess manager’s behavior to the team. The hardest thing for the manager is not to be accepted as a leader by the team. An oversized ego is in conflict with humility and may become a serious obstacle in becoming an effective leader.

During a group feedback session, a manager heard from his subordinate the following comment: “I have the feeling that you abuse your power and that you treat us merely as tools. Are you aware of this?” The leader was taken by surprise and replied: “But why? I only do what I have to. I have to be demanding and tough, otherwise we won’t meet any deadlines! Someone has to keep you in check!” To which the employee briskly replied: “So for me, you are not a leader.” This exchange reveals the truth about the relationship between the leader and his or her team. Leaders must be aware that their subordinates may dethrone them. Team members may revolt and lobby the executive team for a dismissal of the leader or the team may become divided.

There are no ready solutions for difficult situations of this type. The company may opt for a series of coaching session for the leader (leadership coaching) and for the team (team coaching), which can help to diagnose the situation or to collectively decide what solutions to implement. Other options to resolve this type of a problem include group feedback sessions and conflict resolution procedures.

A Leader Emerges

Leadership behaviors are not the sole domain of formal team leaders. Team members should take initiative, undertake various tasks and become leaders of smaller projects.

I have witnessed a situation where a team member, who was encouraged to share her innovative solution to a difficult business problem with others, initiated a crucial process of generating creative ideas and searching for innovative solutions in the company. During this project, she discovered her own creative and leadership potential. Later on, her team members assessed her behaviors as authentic Acts of Leadership, because they were significant, valuable and because they charted a direction for further development of the team and of the whole company. She initiated an important transformation in the business and helped to change the status quo. As a leader, she also became a role model for her colleagues, who discovered that everyone is capable of creativity and leadership, although they might not be aware of this fact.

Leaders at different stages of their career, should have opportunities to gain experience in leading various projects and should be encouraged to get feedback. These two factors, experience and feedback, enable a true development of a leader. Becoming a leader is a long process, full of difficult and unexpected situations and some painful failures. Taxing situations are an opportunity for new leaders to learn, develop their leadership skills, correct their behaviors and to take on new challenges. It is important that young leaders do not travel alone on this journey of development and that they get some support.

Management and Leadership in Action

Modern education and development of leaders should include two key areas: management and leadership.

John Kotter, professor at Harvard Business School, notes that management consists in reacting to complex situations. To complete a task, managers must control and predict many factors and must manage business processes in such a way that they lead to optimal results. They must plan, delegate tasks, negotiate budgets, hire employees, and align roles in the project team according to the employees’ competencies.

Leadership, on the other hand, consists in introducing changes, reacting to changes, setting strategic goals and charting new directions for the team and for the company. So ideally management and leadership should complete each other.

In the contemporary demanding and innovative business environment, the most successful managers combine both, the management and the leadership skills. When students ask me whether they will be managers or leaders, I tell them that they may be hired as managers and one day, they might become leaders of key projects, although the leadership role might not stem from their official position in the company, but from their leadership competencies that they had acquired during their studies.



258 wlodzimierz swiatek

About the Author

Włodzimierz Świątek, Ph.D. – Włodzimierz Świątek, Ph.D. - trainer, coach, consultant, business psychologist, expert and lecturer in Management and Leadership at SWPS University.

Newest articles


See also

psyche space logo design space logo